A Weak Foundation

Here we are in the fifth week and I find myself losing sight of the accomplishments and successes I discussed in my last post.

I like to say things started crumbling when I took Labor Day off. The university was closed and my husband worked – he usually does not work Mondays, so we didn’t have care for the Wee One. I greatly enjoyed having an extra day with her and returned to work feeling refreshed. But that Tuesday – and especially by Thursday or so – I felt so far behind that it was more like I’d taken a week off.

The next week I had to be out of the office one day to go to the nearest major city, a few hours from here. Another day lost to work that left me feeling even further behind.

This semester I’ve been making an effort to work from home as little as possible. Working full time and sending Wee One to daycare, I don’t get to spend nearly as much time with her as I’d like to and she’s growing so fast – sitting unsupported already! My evenings with her are so special to me and I want need to maximize that time. By the time she’s down for the night I’m exhausted and also would like to actually spend some time with my husband – the person whose company I greatly enjoy and whom I feel like I never see anymore. Unfortunately, I’m about done and ready to pass out within an hour of the baby going down (an hour that, tonight, I am spending blogging). And so, even when I bring work home the only way it gets done in the evening is if it absolutely must be done right this minute.

The end of last week found us with a daycare crisis and scrambling to find a new provider. I’ve had considerable stressful experiences in my life but nothing even remotely compared to having a bad experience with daycare and the worry that came with finding somewhere new and trusting someone new – again – with our little girl. Last Friday was completely lost to me.

This feeling of being so behind has been wearing on me this week. On Tuesday I made a to-do list divided into tasks I would do in the morning and tasks I would do in the afternoon. Approximately half of the items on the list still remain. Some of the items are still there because things come up. Others are there because they all took more time than I thought they would. The to-do list I meant to accomplish in one day has become my to-do list for the week.

Unexpected items this week have included emergency counseling with my brand-new masters student who had a conflict (totally not the student’s fault) with a senior faculty member earlier in the week and wound up in tears in a 2nd year student’s office – my first graduate student crisis from the faculty advisor side, and my first time dealing with a conflict between one of my students and another faculty member. The student is now fine and the problem has been remedied. Not entirely to everyone’s satisfaction, but remedied.

Literally within minutes of dealing with that I learned that because of schedule changes I needed to get myself and a graduate assistant enrolled in a short course, absolutely essential for my research, that will have me out of the office two consecutive days next week. This means I’m in the office the remainder of this week and then, because of that class and a conference, gone for 7 of the next 10 business days. And so here I sit, at 8:42 PM, on the verge of panic and blogging in the hopes of getting this all out of my head so that maybe, just maybe, I can sleep tonight.

I’ve heard the second year on the tenure track can be a little easier than the first. We’re settling into a routine, teaching classes we’ve taught before and moving forward with research. Things we did all the foundational work for last year and over the summer. Except I didn’t. I spent the spring semester of my first year either on bed rest or maternity leave and the summer enjoying my time with the baby. Do I regret spending my summer with her and doing very little work? Not for even a split second. But I do think I’d probably be better off now at work if I’d laid a stronger foundation in the first part of 2013. Not regret, exactly…just, noticing.

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Successes and Struggles in the First Two Weeks

This post is perhaps a bit premature as today is only halfway through the second week, but whatever.

As I wrote previously, I was feeling a lot of anxiety about starting a new semester after such a large change in my life. A good friend who has also just returned to work after having her first baby was feeling much the same way and we have commiserated a lot these past couple weeks.  The main concern we shared all summer was in regards to how we would see our work now that we’re also trying to balance it with an extended family. She wondered if her work – particularly scholarship – would be as important to her as it used to be. I was concerned that I would do an equally mediocre job at everything, and who wants to be a mediocre parent and a mediocre scholar?

Now that we’re two weeks in, I’m finding that some of my concerns were well placed while others were not. The first week I felt absolutely swamped by teaching related work and I was concerned that I might never get anywhere in my research. Today I’m happy to report that when I recognized that I got strict with my schedule and set aside all of Tuesday and Thursday for research only – no course work allowed. Granted it’s been a week with that strategy but so far it has been fruitful. The baby is clearly quite happy at daycare and that allows me to work through the day without constantly worrying about her and wanting to call and check in. That, in turn, allows me to be more productive in the office. It’s important to me to get home early enough in the evening to actually spend time with her, so I find myself more focused while I am at work. I waste less time and I work more efficiently. Pregnancy changed my vision so I got new glasses (with no-line bifocals, ugh) and I feel much better than I did whenever I tried to work over the summer.

Other things have not gone as well. Mornings are really productive times for me. Afternoons…well, I’m writing this at 1:45 so you tell me. It just seems like I run out of gas a little before lunch and never get it back again. A few times I’ve given up on doing anything serious in the afternoon and taken my laptop home, but the computer stays in my bag til  I arrive back in the office the next morning. I’m toast in the evenings. Making dinner is a struggle, let alone trying to turn my brain back on. Maybe that will get better as she gets older, or maybe I’ll get used to this half-awake state. Only time will tell.

Daycare Plague hasn’t kicked in yet but I’ve already had to cancel class once, when I woke up with my eye nearly swollen shut on the third day of class. This is like the third year of my PhD when we actually had two snow days in the first two weeks and so we started the semester already behind. But course schedules and lectures can be modified and over half of my students wound up with a four day weekend, so they weren’t complaining.

Baby brain – combined with chemo brain still lingering 4 years later – sometimes leaves me standing in front of the class (or sitting in front of the computer, as ironically happened writing this sentence) unable to find the right word. Knowing it, but not being able to get it out. This week I forgot to get lecture slides online for my students. Just completely forgot. I really hate looking scatterbrained, flaky, stupid…it’s something I’ve always been sensitive about but it’s gotten significantly worse since chemo. That time in my life left me feeling like I had something to prove, that being “cancer girl” didn’t mean I couldn’t still have real career aspirations, couldn’t have a normal life. I think being a new mom has only worsened that feeling. Chances are that when I’m standing there looking for a word it seems like ages to me but students don’t even notice. I hope that’s the case. Maybe it just seems like I’m purposefully slowing down.

This week’s Chronicle Review included a piece about the “superwoman myth” – I have some thoughts to share related to that but need to spend some more time getting them together, so look for a post on that (and related to this post) in the near future.